On Tuesday night, Donald Trump is almost certainly going to declare victory. And Fox News is going to declare Trump the winner. It will all be bullshit.
Let’s look at the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that Trump wins both Florida and North Carolina. Those are both states that are likely to be called on election night itself, because of the way they count votes and because the polls close early. And of course it’s entirely plausible that Trump could win both. And it’ll be hard to watch, no doubt.
But still, if he does: Do. Not. Panic. Everybody I know is in total panic mode. I am myself part of the time. It’s understandable and natural. But—chill. Joe Biden’s ahead. In some polls, way ahead. He has six or seven paths to 270 electoral votes. Donald Trump has one, or maybe two. I’m not predicting anything here. But I’m saying: Be confident, and be strong. It’s important, and it’s going to be even more important starting Tuesday night. That goes for you, and for me—and most of all that goes for the Biden campaign.
Let’s walk through it. If Trump wins both of those states, that’s a bummer. But if Biden wins Michigan and Wisconsin, where his leads now seems pretty solid, and Pennsylvania and Arizona, along with the Omaha district of Nebraska where he’s been consistently ahead, Biden has 291 electoral votes. Let me say that again—that’s 291. He could afford to lose either Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) or Arizona (11), and he’d still win. So Florida and North Carolina are not in any way, shape or form dispositive.
It’s Trump’s whole game (and Fox’s) to position Trump as the presumptive winner. That’s what they’re going to do. They are going to try to convince America that while the results aren’t final, it looks like Trump won and it’s basically just a matter of time before Biden concedes.
This is the 2000 playbook redux. Because George W. Bush led in Florida that year by 538 votes, James Baker and all the others—“all the others” having included three members of the “we just call ball and strikes” Supreme Court, John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—took command immediately and established Bush as the putative winner.
From that moment, Bush was playing offense, and Al Gore was playing defense. I remember it all painfully well. You knew from the day after the election that it was at least 80 percent likely that by hook or by crook, Bush was going to be the next president. That was the media drumbeat, and it was the media drumbeat because Bush and Baker—and yes, Fox News—made it so.
And that’s exactly what Trump and Fox News want to do this week. I can guarantee you that there are memos floating around Fox HQ right now that instruct their anchors: If Trump wins Florida, you start emphasizing how this opens up many paths to 270 for him and puts enormous pressure on Biden; and if he wins Florida and North Carolina, you start saying that it’s over.
As I just explained to you, it’s not. But when did reality ever get in their way? They take irreality and try to make it reality every day, and that’s what they’ll do in spades on election night.
That’s their whole play: make an eventual Trump victory seem inevitable. The other networks must not play into that. And you and I must not let ourselves get overwhelmed by our anxiety. We must fight that narrative in whatever venue we have available to us. I in my columns, you on Twitter and Facebook and to friends and relatives, all of us in our hearts and our heads and our guts.
I follow comments on social media, and conversations with friends and acquaintances. It’s the most remarkable thing. The guy who’s 10 points behind is backed by a bunch of people who are 1,000 percent convinced that the polls are fake and every right-thinking American is with them and their guy is obviously going to win.
Meanwhile, the guy who is 10 points ahead is supported by an armada of worry warts who, while understandably spooked by 2016, are acting like they’re just waiting for the inevitable bad news so they can whine about how unfair it all is. Well, I’m not waiting, and I’m not whining, and you shouldn’t either. We need to fight.
This brings me to the Biden campaign. Biden is a nice man, and while he has certainly attacked Trump, and hard at times, he has in the main used a positive message of unity and coming together to counter Trump’s relentless division and negativity. We’ll see soon enough, but I think it was the right play.
But he and his people need to understand this clearly. Once the polls close, this is a fucking knife fight. They can’t be the nice, play-by-the-rules crew that the Gore team was.
For example: Trump is going to get out there as soon as he can, 9 p.m. or so, and declare himself the winner. Everybody knows he’s going to do that.
Why not get out there before him? Why not pre-but him? Get out there at 8:30, and say there will be no winner tonight. Even if Biden does win Florida and North Carolina, and knows he will have it in the bag, there’s no harm in saying this. “Tonight” only means that night, after all. He can declare victory Wednesday.
But my point is this. Don’t give Trump the stage. Don’t let Trump set the terms. Get on that stage before Trump. Put him on the defensive. To paraphrase an old video tape, grab him by the balls. And squeeze.
The Biden team also needs to appoint someone their Jim Baker. Ron Klain is awesome, but he should work behind the scenes. They need a public figure. I nominate Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He’s tough. He takes no shit. He can go on Fox and make little Tucker pee himself.
Joe Biden is ahead. Joe Biden is very likely to win. Donald Trump is very likely to cheat. We liberals are fighting for democracy, and the odds, and the gods, favor us. Let’s act like it.